Meet our growing team, dedicated to our mission of improving higher education student outcomes.
Senior Program Manager
Millicent Bender is a Senior Program Manager at the College Excellence Program, where she oversees the development of curricula for leadership programs, including the Aspen Presidential Fellowship, and synthesizes learning across the program into practice-focused tools and other resources for the field. Before coming to the Institute, Millicent taught kindergarten in public and charter schools in Baltimore and D.C. She has designed and delivered professional development experiences for new and veteran teachers through Teach For America, The New Teacher Project, and Baltimore City Public Schools. Millicent holds a B.A. in English from Harvard University and an M.S.Ed. in Urban Education from The Johns Hopkins University.
Senior Program Manager
Monica Clark is a Senior Program Manager for the College Excellence Program. Prior to joining CEP, Monica was Program Director for the Council of American Overseas Research Centers, where she managed exchanges for humanities scholars, advocated for higher education funding and administered programs for a network of 24 Overseas Research Centers. Monica has previously served as an Associate Director for the Community College Initiative at the Education Advisory Board, and as Program Manager for Central and West Africa for the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs. She completed her B.A. in Public Policy from Duke University and received an MPA and Master of Arts in International Relations from the Maxwell School at Syracuse University.
Senior Program Manager
Brittney Davidson is a Senior Program Manager at the College Excellence Program. Prior to joining CEP, Brittney led guided pathways research and technology initiatives at the Education Advisory Board. Brittney has previously served as a secondary school teacher on a Navajo reservation in New Mexico, where she collaborated with administrators, local non-profits and community colleges to improve curriculum, leverage technology to personalize instruction, and expand dual enrollment opportunities for students. Brittney has also conducted research projects for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Bank, and has consulted on girls’ empowerment and education programming for NGOs in Uganda. Brittney received her Bachelor’s degree from the University of Florida and completed her MPA at Columbia University.
Nia Ariel Davis, Esq.
Senior Program Manager
Nia Ariel Davis is a Senior Program Manager at the College Excellence Program. Prior to joining CEP, Nia worked at the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS), where she managed the Policy and Legal Strategy team to develop and update policy for the agency. Previously, Nia led legal and policy research at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools and worked on the legal team at the DC Public Charter School Board. She has also taught English as a Second Language in Quito, Ecuador and proudly served as a City Year corps member in New York City. Nia holds a B.A. in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics (PPE) from the University of Pennsylvania and a J.D. from Georgetown University Law Center.
Ben Fresquez is a Program Associate with the College Excellence Program, where he supports the American Talent Initiative and other innovative new programs addressing quality, equity and efficiency in higher education. Prior to joining Aspen, Ben coordinated major projects for a binational collective impact youth engagement initiative across Southern New Mexico, West Texas and Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. Ben has also managed volunteer and community engagement programs for non-profits based in El Paso, Texas. Ben holds a BS in Health Promotion and a minor in Community Health Education from the University of Texas – El Paso.
Program & Operations Manager
Brian Hanafin is the Program and Operations Manager at the College Excellence Program. In this capacity, Brian supports the entire program by developing the program’s financial and operational functions. Previously, Brian worked for Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights’ advocacy, litigation, and training arm where he managed the program’s finances and operations in addition to working on many programmatic initiatives, with a particular focus on the organization’s international LGBT rights work. Brian holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from the George Washington University.
Tess Henthorne is a Program Associate at the College Excellence Program. Her work focuses on helping community colleges align to the labor market, driving talent development and economic mobility. Originally from Cleveland, Ohio, Tess coordinated teaching pedagogy workshops for graduate students at the Center for New Designs in Learning and Scholarship before joining the Aspen Institute. Tess holds a bachelor’s degree in English from the College of Wooster and a master’s degree in English from Georgetown University.
Karthik is a Program Manager at the College Excellence Program. His work at CEP focuses on the Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence and the SIEMENS Technical Scholars programs. Prior to joining the Aspen Institute, Karthik taught PreCalculus at IDEA Mission College Prep in South Texas for three years. When he’s not working, he spends an inordinate amount of time actively searching for Lakers- and Packers-themed baby items for his niece. Karthik holds a B.A. of Business Administration, Marketing, with a minor in Economics and concentration in Finance from the College of William and Mary.
Rachel James is a Program Coordinator with the College Excellence Program, where she supports leadership programming and other projects across the program. She assists with the logistics and execution of sessions for the Aspen Presidential Fellowship for Community College Excellence and completes projects relating to program outreach, open access curricular resources, and communication with Fellows and partners. Prior to joining Aspen, Rachel worked for Broward College’s Office of Advancement/Foundation office. Her role included special events and donor relations. Rachel holds an A.A. in Education from Broward College and recently received a B.A. from Florida Atlantic University in Communication Studies.
Tania (Nguyen) LaViolet, Ph.D.
Senior Program Manager
Tania LaViolet is a Senior Program Manager at the College Excellence Program, where she co-leads the management of the American Talent Initiative—a growing alliance of colleges and universities with the highest graduation rates in the country committed to collectively increasing opportunity for talented low- and moderate-income students. Prior to joining CEP, Tania led best-practice research at the Education Advisory Board, where she published work on promoting timely degree completion at four-year universities, as well as strategic allocation of financial aid to encourage persistence of low-income students. As a Ph.D. student, Tania served in one of the tutor cohorts at the Brilliant Club, a British non-profit that leverages the research community to support young people from under-represented backgrounds access highly-selective universities in the UK. After co-founding the Brilliant Club DC in 2015, the first North American chapter the Brilliant Club, Tania was selected as the first partner of AccessEd, an incubator that supports social entrepreneurs design and deliver new university access programs that mobilize the Ph.D. research community. Tania holds a Ph.D. in Biochemistry from the University of Oxford and graduated with a B.Sc. in Biology from Mount Allison University in Sackville, Canada.
Jessica Leacher is a Program Associate with the College Excellence Program, where she supports initiatives focused on leadership development and equity in higher education. Prior to joining Aspen, Jessica worked at the Council of Chief State School Officers where she supported state education agencies’ efforts to attract, support and retain effective educators in K-12 schools. Jessica has also served as a College Adviser through the College Advising Corps and AmeriCorps to support underserved populations and first-generation college students to navigate the college going process. Jessica holds a BA in Social Relations and Policy from James Madison College at Michigan State University.
McKenzie Maxson is a Program Coordinator at the College Excellence Program. She spends the majority of her time supporting the American Talent Initiative, a growing alliance of colleges and universities with the highest graduation rates in the country committed to increasing opportunity for talented low- and moderate-income students. Prior to joining the CEP team, McKenzie worked in communications at Atlantic Media, and spent time interning at print magazines as well as digital media companies. McKenzie holds a B.S. in journalism and European history from Northwestern University.
Program & Executive Coordinator
Brooke McDonald is the Program and Executive Coordinator at the College Excellence Program. In her role, Brooke provides comprehensive operational support to various CEP projects and facilitates the Executive Director’s program management and strategic communication efforts. Before joining the Aspen Institute, Brooke coordinated international marketing initiatives at Brand USA, a public-private partnership. She holds a M.A. from American University in International Communication, and a B.S. from the University of Tennessee in Business Management.
Program & Operations Associate
Ashley Meeder is the Program and Operations Associate at the College Excellence Program. In her role, Ashley supports all of CEP's initiatives by providing operational, administrative, and logistical support to the program as a whole and various projects as needed. Before joining The Aspen Institute, she taught English as a Second Language in Memphis, Tennessee and Nanchang, China. After returning from China, Ashley worked as an immigration paralegal and helped build a grass roots, refugee-focused non-profit in Ithaca, New York. Ashley holds a B.A. from The Pennsylvania State University in International Politics and Asian Studies.
Travis Olson is a Program Associate for the College Excellence Program. He helps to design and implement strategies to support improvements in institutional practice and leadership, including through CEP’s role as an intermediary support partner in the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Frontier Set initiative and the Aspen Presidential Fellowship for Community College Excellence. Prior to joining the Aspen Institute, Travis worked in student life and served as a lecturer in the Center for Leadership Education at Johns Hopkins University. He brings to his role expertise in leadership development, organizational change, global education, and equity in higher education. He holds bachelor’s degrees in sociology and environmental studies from Loyola University Chicago and a Master of Arts in Higher Education from The Ohio State University.
Linda Perlstein, the associate director of the College Excellence Program, has consulted for the program since its inception. Before coming to Aspen, she was lead curator for the Amazon Books retail chain, a consultant to think tanks and philanthropies on K-12 and postsecondary issues, the public editor of the Education Writers Association, and a staff writer at the Washington Post. Linda is vice president of the board of directors of the professional mentoring organization Friends of the Children-Seattle. She has written two books, Not Much Just Chillin’: The Hidden Lives of Middle Schoolers and Tested: One American School Struggles to Make the Grade, and edited many others. Linda holds a bachelor’s degree from Wesleyan University and a master’s from the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University.
Robert G. Templin, Jr., Ed.D.
Bob Templin is a Senior Fellow in the College Excellence Program, focusing on the preparation of the next generation of community college leaders. He has particular interest in cultivating leaders who seek to achieve extraordinary credential completion and labor market outcomes for students through the creation of collective impact partnerships. Bob served as president of Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) from 2002 to 2015. During that time, NOVA became Virginia's largest public institution of higher education, one of the nation's largest and most diverse community colleges, and one of the leading associate degree-granting institutions in the United States. Since 2010, Bob has served as the Chairman of the Board of Directors of Achieving the Dream, a national community college reform network. Bob also serves as a Professor in the community college leadership program at North Carolina State University.
Keith Witham, Ph.D.
Keith Witham is deputy director of the College Excellence Program, where he oversees the program’s work to advance practices and leadership strategies that significantly improve community college student outcomes. Prior to joining the Aspen Institute, he was on the faculty of the College of Education at Temple University in Philadelphia, where he taught graduate courses in higher education law, policy, administration, and issues of access and equity. Keith also previously worked as senior research analyst at Complete College America and at the USC Center for Urban Education. He has co-authored numerous book chapters and articles about strategies for achieving equity in postsecondary education outcomes. Keith received a bachelor’s degree in political science and a master’s degree in social service administration, both from the University of Chicago. He received a Ph.D. in Urban Education Policy from the University of Southern California Rossier School of Education.
Vice President, The Aspen Institute Founder and Executive Director, College Excellence Program
Joshua Wyner is founder and Executive Director of the College Excellence Program at the Aspen Institute, where he also serves as a Vice President. The Program aims to advance college and university practices, policies, and leadership that significantly improve student outcomes, with a focus on students who are historically underserved in higher education. Josh has spent the past two decades designing and building new organizations that promote talent development and social mobility. He has authored numerous publications about education, including a book, What Excellent Community Colleges Do: Preparing All Students for Success (Harvard Education Press, 2014). He has a B.A. from Vassar College, a MPA from Syracuse University, and a J.D. from New York University School of Law.